Offseason’s no vacation for 51s

Before Joe Inglett reached the major leagues, where the minimum salary is $400,000, he built homes in the offseason to supplement his income.

"You don’t make crap for money (in the minors), so I had to get another job," the 51s utilityman said before his latest call-up to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday. "My dad was a carpenter, so he and I just strapped on the belts and went to work.

"But I vowed to my pops probably four years ago that I would never bang a nail again unless it was for my house."

Minor league players with big league experience, such as Las Vegas outfielder Jason Lane and shortstop Angel Sanchez, can make in excess of $30,000 a month during the five-month Triple-A season.

But many prospects awaiting their first invitation to the majors barely make $2,000 a month in Triple A and even less at the lower levels — roughly $900 per month in rookie ball, $1,100 in Single A and $1,500 in Double A.

And now, heading into their final four games of the season, many 51s have to find employment in a dire job market.

"It’s a struggle," said left-handed starter Brad Mills, who stocked shelves at Costco last offseason. "It’s a grind until you get there."

Players receive per diem of $20 during spring training, but don’t receive a salary until the regular season. They get the same per diem during the season, but must pay for their lodging. Many players also are paying mortgages on their offseason homes.

"It’s a tough life, very tough," 51s president Don Logan said. "It keeps the fire burning.

"The money in this game is either in signing bonuses, the major leagues, or six-year (minor league) free agents."

51s catcher J.P. Arencibia, the Blue Jays’ 2007 first-round draft pick out of Tennessee, signed for $1,372,500, and outfielder Aaron Mathews signed for less than $100,000 in 2004 as a 19th-round pick from Oregon State.

In his sixth minor league season, Mathews makes about $2,100 pretax per month and has to work another job in the offseason to make ends meet.

In addition to toiling on his family’s cattle ranch, Mathews drove a Pepsi delivery truck last offseason.

51s reliever Bubbie Buzachero had worked in construction, landscaping and carpentry in past offseasons before landing a spot in recent years in one of the myriad winter leagues, which sometimes pay up to $10,000 per month.

But unless a minor leaguer commands a lucrative signing bonus, earns a spot on a major league 40-man roster for a couple of years and/or logs major league service time — after which his minimum minor league salary becomes $65,000 — his best chance to earn big bucks is to become a minor league free agent.

If a player spends six seasons in the minors without making the majors, he is granted free agency and can negotiate a monthly salary ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 — or more, depending on the organization and the player’s potential value.

Players shake their heads at the perception that all baseball players are rich, when many minor leaguers make less money than some of the fans who attend their games.

"You get that label no matter what," 51s right-hander Marty McLeary said. "They think you’ve got all the money in the world. They have no clue."

Catcher Kyle Phillips sells cars in the offseason and often has to explain to co-workers why he needs to work a second job.

"They’re like, ‘What are you doing? You guys make millions of dollars,’ " he said. "That’s not really the case, so I try to explain the ups and downs, and how we don’t really make any money, how it’s a grind and we live paycheck to paycheck.

"Here I am 25 years old and I still live with my wife’s parents."

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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